I HAD to interrupt my Saturday morning to post this:
I am responsible for a section of Domestic Administration that had me, a long time ago, decreeing that the domestic official in charge of duties involving outdoor dirt should not be assigned any food-related tasks such as sundry shopping.
This, after I had decided that his overall carelessness meant he could not be trusted to always wash and disinfect his hands before heading out to handle even raw food-related materials. He understood this and agreed to the rule.
So this morning I walked over to him as he was cleaning up and asked him to go and buy a saw-blade, handing him a Ushs10,000 note.
“A blade – for the musumenyi,” I said, handing him the money. I thought about reminding him that the one we were using for a gardening project was worn out but felt it unnecessary.
My wife, flanking me, quickly suggested: “With the balance, please buy bread.”
“No,” I interjected quickly, “I bought lots of bread yesterday evening.”
The fellow was standing there for all this, and put down his cleaning materials to take the money from me and go off for the blade as the rest of us took off on an early morning jog round the neighbourhood.
Or, at least, that’s what I thought he was going to do.
We returned, freshened up, and on my way to the garden I went to load up a mug of coffee (grown, roasted and ground in Uganda).
I noticed a Ushs5,000 note on the kitchen counter, on top of a receipt.
Being well aware that the hardware shops nearby NEVER issue printed receipts and that nobody else had sent any other domestic officers on errands since middle and top management had all gone out on the morning jog, my heart sunk right to my considerable belly.
I live on a tight budget, and did not need unnecessary departures by way of random errors.
The receipt, on inspection, declared that someone had procured a loaf of bread during the time we had gone off on our little run. The time lapse suggested that there was little possibility of fighting that “goods once sold” rule.
Still, I rushed over to the fellow who should have been handing me my blade, this time interrupting his car washing duties, and asked: “What did you buy?”
He thought a little bit in silence as these fellows often do, hoping that you just go away with your question. I have never seen that strategy working.
I asked again: “What did you buy?”
After a few more seconds of mental mathematics he responded with: “From ‘Jesus Saves'”
That’s the name of a nearby supermarket. I know they don’t sell saw-blades.
“Okay,” I conceded, to save time, “What did you buy at ‘Jesus Saves’?”
“Brown what?” I asked, controlling my irritation, anger and fear as I tried to work out how to stretch all that bread, since I wasn’t going to use it to cut anything at anytime.
“But I said ‘blade’. Do you know what a ‘blade’ is?”
He didn’t. And I realised that I should have learnt this about him long ago – I have thirty other stories such as this, all of which I have today decided to compile into a management book.
It doesn’t end there.
I gathered up some savings money and went down to the hardware shop nearby to buy my own damn saw-blade.
On getting there, I found the tools up on display included the largest saw-blades but not the little one I needed for my domestic D-I-Y use.
“Do you have small blades? For the small musumenyi? Smaller than that one?” I asked the fellow manning the shop, pointing at the massive one on display.
He looked up at the big ones I was pointing at, thought a little bit, and then said: “No.”
This could not be. The small blades I wanted were the most common and there was no way this little hardware shop had stocked up for lumberjacks in the city…
“But…surely you have the small ones somewhere?” I pleaded, looking round the shop to find them for myself.
He joined me half-heartedly and then I saw him visibly making a realisation.
“Aaaah!” he went, and then said in a tone of voice that suggested I was to blame for his misunderstanding, “We only have these ones – for metal…” and whipped out a pack of the exact blades I was asking for.
“Aren’t those smaller than these ones?” I asked, somewhat indignantly.
“Yes, but these ones are for metal.”
My Christian side took charge.
“My friend, just admit you made an error and sell me that blasted blade so I can go and work.”
He apologised. We both smiled. And here I am.
With bread and a blade.